Blood on their hands

Six hours after County mental health officials sent a psychotic man back home, he killed his mother and young niece.

Rodney darted across the big yard as his mother dialed 911. Charlie jumped into his truck and drove toward Rodney, pleading with him to put the knife down. Instead, Rodney jumped a fence into an alley.

"I figured the police would shoot him if he's got a knife in his hand," Charlie said, "because he didn't seem too afraid that day."

Back at the house, Charlie sifted through Rodney's belongings for illegal drugs, but found none. But he did see an old rifle beneath Rodney's bed that wasn't supposed to be there.

Rodney Aviles was so delusional that he thought "evil" family members had disfigured him.
David Hollenbach
Rodney Aviles was so delusional that he thought "evil" family members had disfigured him.
Mauricia Aviles and her niece Alexia, about a year before 
the murders.
Mauricia Aviles and her niece Alexia, about a year before the murders.

The rifle, an AR-15 once owned by Rodney's grandfather, was unloaded. But Mauricia said she'd heard a clicking noise coming from Rodney's room all night, and now she knew what it was.

Rodney remained incommunicado for two days.

Then, on June 15, Tempe police received a 911 call from a disturbed man who said he needed help.

"The walls were talking back . . .I'm going crazy," the caller told a dispatcher.

It was Rodney Aviles.

He also called his mother's house that day, but made little sense during a short conversation with his brother-in-law, Frank Tallebas, except to say he was in Tempe.

Anita Watson drove over to Mill Avenue and searched in vain for her brother until nightfall. (The family later found receipts from a Tempe motel in Rodney's pocket.)

Another day passed.

On June 17, someone from an attorney's office near I-17 and Dunlap Avenue phoned Mauricia Aviles. Rodney had walked in unannounced and said he wanted to sue family members for injuring him physically and by reading his mind.

Anita Watson already had called mental-health authorities to see if they'd admit him for treatment when he turned up. To commit Rodney wouldn't be easy for a close-knit Latino family that prided itself on handling its own problems. But by now, the Aviles' were thoroughly convinced that he posed an immediate danger to himself and those around him.

Mauricia and Anita drove to the lawyer's office, and took Rodney to an urgent care center in northwest Phoenix.

Rodney at first apparently thought his family was going to pay to fix his "broken" leg and "tattooed" penis. He became unglued when he learned they wanted to lock him up for mental-health treatment.

After a long wait, Rodney grudgingly spoke with nurse-practitioner Katherine Pool. Her report said Rodney was pacing, anxious, illogical, delusional and paranoid, and she quoted him as saying, "I melt in heat. Can't see dogs because of heat."

Noted Pool, "Family does not feel safe with him...Family thinks [Rodney] is using drugs, but [has] never seen [him] using any . . .Paranoid regarding family trying to confuse him or attack him."

Dr. Balwinder Pawar, a psychiatrist, also interviewed Rodney that day. His job was to determine if Rodney needed to be sent to the county hospital for more intensive evaluation.

"He was not agitated, he was not a management problem, he was not threatening or doing anything," Pawar said later. "But he was angry inside . . .I felt he was psychotic and probably could get some help and some more evaluation, and need[ed] to be observed."

Pawar agreed to sign Anita Watson's petition with the court to allow Rodney's transfer to the county hospital's psychiatric ward.

That day, Rodney tested positive for cocaine use, which lent credence to his family's initial impression about why he'd cracked mentally. But, even now, it remains frustratingly uncertain if or how much Rodney's possible use of cocaine fueled his festering paranoia and rage against his family.

That's because a second drug test administered two days after the June 17 one came up negative. According to experts contacted by New Times, that speaks against Rodney's chronic coke use (he once claimed he'd ingested it for several days before his county commitment) and raises legitimate questions about how often he actually did the drug.

The best evidence against the cocaine-induced violence theory (which criminal prosecutors and attorneys for Maricopa County in the civil case have raised in various pleadings) may be the continued intensity of Rodney's mental illness since his arrest and incarceration.

"The severity of [Rodney's] unawareness of illness is among the worst I have ever seen," says Dr. Xavier Amador, a New York clinical psychologist hired last year by the Aviles criminal defense team. "He is still not normal in his mental capacities. He will never be normal, and there is no way to `compensate' for his problems."


Rodney Aviles tried to smuggle a six-inch folding knife into the Maricopa Medical Center when he was admitted on June 18, 1999. Authorities confiscated the weapon.

How Rodney had kept the knife hidden until then is uncertain. He may have had the mental capacity to be cunning, but he also was psychotic.

"I see lasers ever since I was young," Rodney earnestly told a hospital nurse during his intake interview on the evening of June 18.

He told the nurse about his mother's alleged tattooing and scarring of him. Trouble was, no one could see the markings but Rodney.

Doctors put Rodney on Haldol, a potent anti-psychotic with a sedating effect that's often a plus in an acute-care setting.

Rodney would insist until his June 23 release that he wasn't sick. But, tellingly, his medical charts indicate that his psychotic delusions, most of them focused on his mother, continued unabated until he walked out the door.

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